Patricia Parker, an owner of the Takoma Hardware & Paint Co. and Design Centre, remembers not long ago when it took five minutes to get to the city post office on Maple Avenue.

"Whenever we want to get our bills dropped now, we have to allot at least half an hour to drive over to New Hampshire Avenue and back," she said. "I think the post office is really behind in the revitalization of the downtown {Takoma Park} area . . . . And our mail is not delivered until late in the day."

Parker is one of many city customers who are unhappy about the temporary relocation of the post office to 6530 New Hampshire Ave., in an office building just outside the city limits in Prince George's County. The new location, officials and residents complain, is inconvenient for the city's large population of minority and elderly residents who do not have cars.

According to Takoma Park City Council member Paul D. d'Eustachio, "It is unreasonable to expect these people to spend several hours a day to get to and from their city's post office. There is no easy public transit to the temporary facility . . . . A person must take a Ride-On bus to the Metro station at Fort Totten, then take another bus back up New Hampshire Avenue to the post office. This brings the cost of round trip transportation to the post office to $4.20 a day."

Council member Greg V. Hamilton has gathered more than 200 signatures since early this month on a petition asking the Postal Service to find a more accessible post office site.

"A number of senior citizens who live in the Franklin Apartment building at 7720 Maple Ave. have been coping by paying others to go pick up their mail for them," Hamilton said. "This is outrageous."

He said he also believes that mail delivery has been affected, often coming later in the afternoon.

The old post office moved from the building at 7117 Maple Ave., in the southwestern corner of Takoma Park, after officials decided the building was too small.

They had been forced to eliminate sorting and carrier services at the post office because there wasn't enough space, and officials said the building's two parking spaces for customers were insufficient.

The U.S. Postal Service's real estate division is seeking a larger and more accessible site. But the size of the future facility is at the center of the dispute between local officials and Postal Service representatives.

The post office has 10,062 residences and businesses in its jurisdiction and 532 box customers. Postal Service officials, using national growth statistics, estimate that the facility will eventually serve a community of 42,000 people and they will need a 25,000- square-foot, one-story building, according to city officials.

The officials have had little luck in finding such a facility.

City officials, instead, point to the 1980 census figure showing a lower growth rate in Takoma Park. They argue that the Postal Service is overestimating the need by about 10,000 customers and therefore looking for too large a facility.

Daniel Neal, director of the division of Economic and Community Development for Takoma Park, said the Postal Service projections are out of line because the city is fully developed with little real estate for lease or sale.

Sandra Stewart, communications manager for the Southern Maryland/D.C. Postal Division, countered claims of miscalculation. "We do our planning based on 10-year projections. It usually takes us at least three, sometimes five years to build a new post office," she said.

"I'm sure those figures are based on growth for the next 10 years. Montgomery and Prince George's counties are both high-growth areas."

"We're trying to be good neighbors and to do our best work with the city . . . every effort is being made to find a site that will be mutually acceptable to both parties."

Stewart said the 20912 Zip Code area is bordered by Eastern Avenue , Sheridan Street, Piney Branch Road and New Hampshire Avenue.

Mayor Stephen J. Del Giudice, who has been involved in the negotiations with the federal officials, said that the Postal Service is leaning toward a permanent site close to the temporary New Hampshire Avenue site.

He said he has discussed supplementing Ride-On routes with Montgomery County and Prince George's County transportation officials to make the temporary location more accessible.

"It's something that could happen in the future," Del Giudice said. "I don't know that it will happen anytime in the near future."

City officials recommended that postal officials consider a vacant lot at Ethan Allen and Carroll avenues, near the fire station in Takoma Junction. Neal had met with Postal Service representatives and developer Mike Zarpas of the Takoma-Carroll Limited Partnership for nearly a year to try to hammer out an agreement.

Neal said the site was a good one because it provided a good anchor for the business community and was centrally located to public and private transportation. But recently, the Postal Service rejected the site as too small.

A huge vacant lot on the District side of Carroll Avenue is another possible site, according to d'Eustachio. City officials are not as concerned with having the post office within city limits as they are about its accessibility to all city residents.

Rep. Constance Morella (R-Md.) met with Postal Service and city officials this month to urge that a site be found soon within the Takoma Park city limits.

Morella, who serves on the Post Office and Civil Service Committee in the House, said she has scheduled more meetings with postal officials on the Takoma Park issue.

"I believe the Postal Service is making a good-faith effort to find an acceptable site," she said.